Dead for a Ducat, Chapter Twenty-One

Dead for a Ducat

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

“On October the fifteenth Lady Pipford sent for Mr. Geary and asked him to draw up a new Will for her, cutting out Montaccord.  It seems likely that Montaccord overheard this or at least guessed the reason for Mr. Geary’s visit.  Two days later Montaccord called on Jason Pipford in his laboratory and a few days later still bought two boxes of Windsor chocolates in Newminster.  October the twenty-second was Lady Pipford’s birthday, and she was presented by Montaccord with one of the boxes in which every chocolate had enough cyanide of potassium in it to kill its consumer instantly.  Lady Pipford suspected something of the sort and sent specimens to her son for analysis.  On November the second she gave a small dinner-party, but as her guests arrived she read a letter from Jason which confirmed her suspicion that the chocolates were poisoned.  She ‘scarcely spoke’ to Montaccord throughout the evening, Mr. Fleece recalled.
“We who knew her can guess something of what passed in her mind now.  She was a woman who had more than once faced crises in which life or death would very much at stake.  She had probably defended herself with a firearm before.  Nothing would persuade her to report this matter to the police, whom she detested for what she believed their treachery towards her late husband.  She decided to take the law into her own hands.  I don’t think it would have occurred seriously to her to do anything with a poisoner except kill him.  To her uncompromising and fearless nature it would seem simply logical and necessary.
“I think Montaccord might have saved his life if he had gone at once to his hotel and never returned to Mincott.  But in some ways he was a slothfully unimaginative man, and can have had no premonition of what would come.  He was to go away, and then on November the fourteenth, the eve of his planned departure, he decided to stay for another week.  That was too much for his mother-in-law, and she decided to put into effect immediately her plan for killing him.
“Or it may be that she never waivered and had decided that in any case Montaccord’s last night in Mincott should be his last on earth.  She confided in no one.  She was quite sure of herself and the success of the stratagem, so much cleverer than Montaccord’s.
“At any rate she heard that afternoon from Darryl that he intended to stay.  ‘He’s really intolerable,’ she told Miss Crick; ‘I did think we were quit of him.’  That was clever, I think.  A less intelligent person would have made up something about his threats to commit suicide.  But Margaret Pipford made no such mistake.
“Her plan was to shoot Montaccord in such a way that it would appear as though he had committed suicide.  I think she would have preferred to shoot him as he faced her, but that was impossible, not because she was afraid, but because it could not then be made to appear as though he had taken his own life.
“She decided to give him a sleeping-draught.  We heard from May Swillow that recently Montaccord had taken to having a rum-and-milk before going to bed and that its preparation puzzled her because Montaccord was quite unpractical in such things.  It looks as though for several nights Lady Pipford had prepared this for him with the deliberate intention of being able to insert a sleeping-draught on the night she had chosen for his destruction.
“She knew he slept with his mouth open; indeed, that he snored.  She determined to take a gun, put its barrel into or near his mouth and pull the trigger.  The gun would lie along his right side.  She would then put the thumb of his right hand on the trigger.  She would wear gloves so that no fingerprints would appear.  Someone might doubt that it was suicide, but certainly no one could prove that it was not.
“But she took proportions.  Suppose that something unforeseen, something she could not imagine, shewed afterwards that Montaccord had been shot—she must not be proved to be the only other person in the house.  Something must be done which, if the emergency arose, suggested an entry by a person unknown.  So she decided to open the scullery window.  That would be just enough.  She would not overdo it.  In fact throughout her planning and carrying out of this murder she shewed great level-headed this in not overdoing anything.
“Finally, when Montaccord was dead, she would ’phone for me.  Her known antipathy to the police and an old family friendship made this a reasonable action.  She knew I would bring the police, but that was another matter.  It was all admirably worked out in just enough and not too much detail.  Even as it happened, with all the bits of bad luck she had and the one error she made, she would never have been convicted, even if she had lived to face trial, or even if it had been thought worthwhile to try for a conviction.
“And how did it work out?  She went about it coolly.  First she had to prevent Jason coming down as he intended that night.  She ’phoned him and said that as Montaccord was staying on for a week there was no point in his coming.  She was emphatic in saying that nothing could be done about it.
“She and Montaccord must have dined together, and it is gruesome to think of that meal shared by the man who had attempted to kill his mother-in-law and still intended to do so and the woman who within a few hours would kill him.  They probably spoke very little, but what data for the criminologist would have been a recording of their conversation.
“It was after dinner, I think, that she went up and took the key out of Montaccord’s door.  She would have left this as late as possible, so that he would not notice it till he went to bed.
“At ten o’clock she brought Montaccord his rum-and-milk, as was now her habit.  In it she had put two of her sleeping tablets powdered.  She was relieved to see him drink it all and take himself off to bed.
“She gave him an hour to fall into a deep sleep, then, pulling on an old pair of gloves she used for doing the flowers, she went out and opened the scullery window.  From the scullery she went to the gun-room, took down and loaded Montaccord’s own gun and carried it upstairs.  His door was of course unlocked and he was snoring loudly.  She shot him as she had planned, left the gun in the right position and came downstairs.
“So far, so good.  But now happened the unexpected.  The front-door bell rang and she found Jason there.  Her anger is readily imaginable and Jason Pipford has hinted at it.  She gave him no reason except that he had done what she had expressly forbidden, but she told him he must go straight back to London.  Such was the awe in which she was held, that Jason obeyed.  He had sent away the taxi in which he had come from Newminster and had to ’phone for Bretton, who reach the house at twenty-five past eleven and took Jason up to London.
“Since Nockings heard what was almost certainly the fatal shot at approximately eleven o’clock, the dead body had thus been upstairs for nearly half an hour.  This was not what she had planned.  She had intended to get me out of once, so that when an examination of the body was made no time-lag would be discoverable.
“I think—though it’s little more than a guess—that she went to Montaccord’s room again before telephoning.  At all events, she probably did something which meant pulling on her gloves again, because I found them stuffed into a plant pot near the telephone.  She was quite cool when she spoke to me, saying simply that Montaccord was dead and it looked as though he had shot himself.  I agreed to come out at once.
“But although I did not know it at the time, she told her first significant lie then.  ‘About ten minutes ago,’ she said.  It was, in fact, three quarters of an hour.  She was trying to blot out the time in which Jason had been in the house.
“I found the house a blaze of lights, but that was natural enough.  I can understand anyone wanting light everywhere when there was a corpse upstairs.  But what did not seem quite so natural when Lady Pipford had told me that she went to bed soon after ten was that the fire in the smoking-room was burning brightly.  Nor did I feel very easy about the time she gave me for going to bed, since she was a notoriously late bird.
“Then I came on her only serious blunder.  On a side-table was the glass in which had been Montaccord’s doped rum-and-milk.  She had intended, of course, to wash this up and put it away, but Jason’s arrival and upset her plans, and she had called me before she had tidied up as she meant to do.
“When I noticed it and asked about it, she lost her head of little.  After all, she only had to say that she herself had used it, and I should have thought no more.  But she probably thought it had aroused my suspicions, and had visions of an autopsy on Montaccord which would reveal the phenobarbitone or whatever it was she had given him in his rum-and-milk.  So she made up a story of his having come and asked her for sleeping-tablets.  I was almost sure it was a lie, because Darryl’s dressing-gown and bedroom slippers were packed.
“Then John Moore arrived at the door and I went to open it.  When I returned a few minutes later the glass was gone and the french windows open.  I do not believe for a moment that anyone had come in from the outside, as I was meant to believe.  If so, the french windows had been unlocked all the evening, which was most unlikely.  From this moment I knew that either Margaret Pipford had killed Montaccord or had been closely associated with whatever person had done so.  And there was not then, and is not now, the slightest reason to suppose that there was anyone else in the house at the time.
“Nockings told me something which almost clinched the matter in my mind.  He said that acting on Lady Pipford’s orders he was cleaning the bed near the french windows of the smoking-room (for both this room and that have french windows) when he found a milk-stained glass.  This was afterwards examined, and was found to contain rum-and-milk and nothing else.  There could be no doubt that it had been planted there for him to find, a rather clumsy effort to avert my suspicions over the glass that had disappeared.  For, of course, those milk-stains were new, and not those left by the doped rum-and-milk drunk by Montaccord.  Margaret Pipford and carried her technique of ‘covering up’, which she had already used the sculler window, a step farther. 
“But what seems to me to complete the case is a nice piece of balance which appeals to me, which the police will probably find merely academic.  Just as the main evidence against Montaccord is the fact that he was murdered by Lady Pipford, so the main evidence against Lady Pipford is that she was murdered by Montaccord.”
“That’s very pretty,” put in Rupert Priggley, “but does it mean anything?”
“Priggley . . .” admonished the headmaster.
“It means a great deal.  At the beginning of this case Detective Sergeant Moore was convinced that if Montaccord was murdered it was by a maniac, because no one could possibly have a motive for murdering that man.  But when we learnt that the chocolates were poisoned, and still more now that we have seen the Noyau poisoned, we know that one person, the one against whom those poisonings were directed, most certainly had a very potent motive—self-preservation with perhaps a spice of vengeance.  We know that Margaret Pipford killed her son-in-law because we know that he was trying to kill her.  We know that he was trying to kill her because she killed him.
“In sequence to that we have to notice the behaviour of Lady Pipford when she found May Swillow poisoned by one of the chocolates given her by Montaccord.  It was not only that she was genuinely distressed over this, it was that she saw the danger of allowing it to become known.  If the police or I discovered the truth about the chocolates we should at once be provided with what we sought—a motive for the murder of Montaccord.  So she took swift and nearly effective steps to see that we should not discover.  She at once removed the box of poisoned chocolates and dragged May Swillow’s body away from the cupboard in which they were hidden.  Then she probably lied to me about where she had been.  John Moore had told me that she went upstairs after a late tea, and when I asked her where she was between tea and finding the body she said ‘Out’.  She may have been, but I don’t think it’s likely.  Also she said she had seen a car in the lane.  I think this was sheer embroidery.  Nockings had seen one there on the night Montaccord was murdered, and I think Margaret Pipford made up her story of the second one.  It conforms with all her cover-up technique.
“Anyway, there’s my case against her.  It’s now for the police to find evidence to confirm it.”
“It’s all very well,” said John Moore, becoming a trifle more good-humoured than he had been.  “But you know perfectly well that there isn’t a solid piece of proof in the lot.  I daresay you’re right.  I daresay that’s exactly as it happened.  But what have you told us that would convince a jury?”
“My dear John,” Carolus replied, “it is not my business to convince juries, but to convince myself.  You and your very competent boys can get to work on that.  I am sure you’ll find plenty of evidence.  Things under the microscope, fingerprints, heaven knows what.  With a bit of luck and maybe something like a diary or a letter or something of the sort.  It’s all yours.”
“Thanks,” said Moore.  “At all events I am satisfied that there is no need to keep these ladies and gentlemen here any longer.”
“A handsome admission, Detective Sergeant,” pronounced Mr. Gorringer.  “Let me say that I am the first to appreciate that your methods of investigation are not given to flights of fancy such as ornament the researches of Mr. Deene.  I only trust that you will conduct the remainder of this case with as little publicity as possible.  You can understand that I do not want the name of the headmaster of the Queen’s School, Newminster, associated with these somewhat hair-raising events.  It would be advantageous to us all, I think, if it could simply be announced that Lady Pipford, who was on our Board of Governors, had died suddenly at her home, Mincott House.  Yes ‘died suddenly’ is undoubtedly the best phrase to employe.  Particularly as, to our great relief, this will not be followed by a trial for murder.”
“I’ll see what can be done,” said Moore.
“I know one thing,” said Rupert Priggley.  “I shall never want another sweet or chocolate as long as I live.  A more revolting record of greed I’ve never heard.  From now on cigarettes only for me.”
“Priggley!” admonished Mr. Gorringer.
Mr. Fleece could contain himself no longer.
“A triumph, Deene!” he shouted.  “No less than a triumph!  We are infinitely indebted to you.  Mincott is itself again!”
“He’s not forgetting that there has been Death amongst us,” qualified his wife, watching the Vicar’s flushed face with some anxiety.
“I don’t feel very triumphant,” said Carolus.
And indeed he did not.  During the drive back to Newminster with the Sticks and Rupert Priggley added to his passengers he scarcely spoke, and thereafter he was silent on the Mincott case.  Even his housekeeper respected this reticence and neither by word nor look reproached him for bringing her and her husband so close to death.
— THE END

Dead for a Ducat, Chapter Twenty

Dead for a Ducat

CHAPTER TWENTY

So strong among these people had been a supposition that all the murders had been the work of some maniac or fiend, that the name given by Carolus at last caused more sensation that he could have expected.  He had, after all, practically eliminated everyone else, and the more intelligent of his audience should have realized long ago that Montaccord was the poisoner.
Inevitably came from Mr. Fleece the obvious interjection.
“But he’s dead!” he remembered.  “How could he . . .?”
“The evil that men do lives after them,” said Carolus.
“I was afraid you’d trot that one out,” sighed Rupert Priggley.
“In a very literal sense the evil here lived after its initiator.  It might have lived longer and gone farther.  If, for instance, anyone else had preferred Noyau to brandy we should have had another death.  On the other hand, if Lady Pipford had consented to do as Detective Sergeant Moore and I begged her—go away and leave the house to be examined from roof to cellar—she would have saved her life.  Darryl Montaccord was like some huge white slug that leaves its slime behind it.
“How well he fits in all our categories.  He had access to cyanide of potassium.  Swillow told me how Darryl went up to London about a month previously.  ‘Went to see Jason.  Went to where he works,” said Swillow, and added that his wife had given him this information.  Carolus turned to Jason.  “It’s true, I take it?”
“Quite true,” said Jason.  “He came to borrow money.”
“Was he successful?”  Carolus scarcely needed to ask.
“No.  I was very annoyed, as a matter of fact, that he should have come to my laboratory.”
“He knew it well?”
“Very.  There was a time, before he married my sister, when he was a frequent and welcome visitor of mine.”
“He knew where the various chemicals were kept?”
“Yes.”
“Was he left alone where they were accessible that afternoon?”
“For about ten minutes, yes.  I was doing some important work in the smaller laboratory when he arrived and left him to wait.”
“And you wouldn’t have known afterwards if he had taken cyanide of potassium from your supply?”
“Almost certainly not, unless he took a large quantity.”
“He would have taken sufficient to make its chocolate in a two-pound box and at least one bottle of my own faithfully poisonous?  Without your knowing, I mean.”
“Certainly.  Perhaps more.”
“I believe he did so,” said Carolus.  “I believe he went to your laboratory that afternoon with no other purpose in mind.  Had he asked for money before?”
“Often.”
“Had you ever lent or given him money?”
“Never.”
“Then why should he have supposed he would obtain it on that afternoon?  Why should he have gone up to London specially for it when he knew the almost certain result?  No.  He went to get poison.”
“That’s an assumption, of course,” said John Moore.
“Of course, though a legitimate one.  All I’m asking you to believe that present is that Montaccord had access to cyanide of potassium.  That, you may remember, was the poison is first qualification.  His second was that he should have a motive, and of no one is this as true as of Montaccord.”
“Why?” asked Moore.
“Because he knew that Lady Pipford intended to cut him out of her Will.  He practically told Boater this, and the fact that he never asked her, when she was making certain terms with him, seems evidence enough to me.  He knew what the original Will gave him.  He must have guessed that it would not be allowed to stand when he been bought off from his place in the family by Lady Pipford, and he must have connected Mr. Geary’s visit with this.
“That is quite true,” said Geary from his place beside John Moore.  “I had to see him about the Brighton hotel, and he was fishing for facts then.  I told him in round terms that after the partnership was bought he must expect no more from Lady Pipford, and he gave an unpleasant little laugh and said he didn’t.”
“Yes,” continued Carolus.  “Of everyone in the case he alone had a strong and credible motive.  For to this matter of the Will was added the hatred which we know from Boater he felt for the woman who had given him so much, his mother-in-law.  He was being turned out, and before he went he was determined to secure the money that was coming to him and avenge himself for all the humiliations he felt he had suffered.
“The third necessity was that the murderer should have had access to the poisoned chocolates and Noyau, and here we are not only satisfied but have a bonus of evidence which I have just received from Priggley.  For a long time I had suspected that the chocolates which Lady Pipford locked up came from Montaccord.  Why else should she has sent them to Jason for analysis?
“It happened that Lady Pipford’s birthday, as I heard from Miss Crick, fell a week after Montaccord’s visit to London.  He expected to be able to give her a box of chocolates on that day with out arousing any suspicion, but his mother-in-law new his meanness so well that her suspicions were at once aroused.
“Further evidence of this came from Poppy Munn, who found another, unopened box of Windsor chocolates among his possessions.  He had this ready, I think, to substitute for the poisoned ones as soon as Lady Pipford had eaten one.  If he had any cunning in his scheme at all, I think, he intended to put one or two poisoned chocolates in some other receptacle beside her dead body and leave his unpoisoned box there too, so that the inference would be drawn that she had not been poisoned by one of the chocolate he had given her.  We heard from May Swillow that for those last few weeks he was never far away from Lady Pipford while she was in the house, and I think this was because he had to be present when she would be poisoned.  His exasperation when the days went by and still the box was not produced can be imagined.
“I sent Priggley to the various shops in Newminister to see what he could trace.  I had not many hopes of the result, because I thought that Montaccord had probably bought his two boxes while he was in London.  But his scheme apparently evolved slowly.  At a shop in Newminster High Street, the young lady assistant, described by Priggley in his report as a piece of homework, remembered a man of Montaccord’s heavy build, but wearing dark sun-glasses, buying two boxes of Windsor chocolates about three and a half weeks before the date of his death, or between his visit to London and Lady Pipford’s birthday.  These chocolates are expensive, and the sale of two two-pound boxes together impressed themselves on the girl’s memory.  It is possible that the exact date and established from the firm’s accounts and that it may tally with the date on which, Swillow told me, he drove Montaccord to Newminster.  If so, the evidence becomes rather more than circumstantial.
Poppy Munn interrupted.
“There was a pair of dark glasses among his things,” she said.  “I noticed them at the time because I’ve never seen him wear them.”
“Thank you.  That helps,” said Carolus.
“You’re welcome.”
“Then as it became clear to Montaccord that Lady Pipford did not intend to eat the chocolates he had given her, he had to seek some other means of administering the poison, and thought of the liqueur of which she was so fond.  I knew from Boater that Montaccord had a key of the wine-cellar, and heard from Lady Pipford tonight that she bought Noyau by the dozen bottles.  It was an obvious choice for him.  It is a pity that no one told me about Lady Pipford’s predelection for this liqueur.  All I knew until this evening was that she drank it on the occasion of the last dinner-party.  If I had been warned that she might have it brought from her stock, it might have saved her life.
“I think, either way, that Montaccord’s postponement of his departure to Brighton is accounted for by this.  Suspicion would be less likely to attach to him if he were actually present at her death than if he had gone away.  He may have had some further scheme to divert suspicion from himself, perhaps putting some of the poison into someone else’s possession or something of the sort.  That we shall never know.
“The fourth way in which Darryl Montaccord fits the bill will seem more nebulous to some of you, but to me is paramount; I mean his character.  For this murder was not only premeditated, It was plotted.  A man lived for weeks with this plan, waking to it and sleeping with it, picturing it affect without pity, only anxious about its benefit to himself and his own escape from discovery.
“I do not believe that most murders are committed by people who might be distinguishable as murderers.  Crimes of passion and violence, the sudden flaming up of desire for vengeance, murders that come from productions of hatred or jealousy—these could be the work of many, perhaps most of us in certain desperate circumstances.  But a cold-blooded, scheming poisoner is another matter, and quite frankly, although I have talked of a suspect list and in my nightmares have seen everyone as a possible murderer, there was no one except Montaccord connected with this case of whom I could feel any real suspicion.  Had it been, as some of you supposed, a maniac at work, then almost any of us who had schizophrenic tendencies might have been guilty and continued to lead a commonplace life.  But there was no maniac here.  On the contrary, there was a frigidly resolute killer who planned cunningly and worked without any scruple.  Long before I had what could be called a clue to the mystery I thought instinctively that Montaccord was my man.  My friend Detective Sergeant Moore will find that a dangerous argument, and if it were the only one it would be so.  As a supplementary consideration it had, in my mind, enormous force.
“Montaccord certainly knew the habits of the household—that was his fifth qualification.  indeed, he seems to have shared in the sweet-tooth gluttony—I’m afraid I must use that word—which was in evidence here.  he knew that Lady Pipford loved chocolates and Noyau.  He knew every relevant fact which made this poisoner’s scheme practicable.  He was not, of course, alone in this, but it was a necessary factor.
“It is when we come to be sixth that again we find Montaccord spotlighted.  He more than anyone except Jason Pipford had the knowledge necessary.  I knew from Lady Pipford that Montaccord had been trained as a chemist and from Jason Pipford that they had been fellow undergraduates.  He would know all the relevant facts—the poison to administer, the dose, the effect, the odour, the taste, the way disguise it.  He would realize, with a sly grin, perhaps, the luck he had in Lady Pipford’s taste for Noyau, of all things.
“I said earlier that the method and poison used precluded no one from suspicion entirely, that anyone could learn the few necessary facts about cyanide of potassium, and this is true.  But I might have added that in learning those facts someone wholly unacquainted with the subject would probably have left traces behind him.  He would have been forced to inquire of someone else, and the conversation might be remembered, or have used a reference book, his purchase or borrowing of which would be recorded.  With Montaccord this was not so.  He had all the knowledge necessary
“The final point was really settled when we discussed Montaccord’s character.  He and he alone we have the cold-bloodedness to be prepared to sit and watch his victim die.  Most of you have had the experience tonight without the awful sense of responsibility that would have been the murderer’s.  None of us is likely to forget it.  How much more dire it would have been for a man sitting at the table knowing that a sip of liqueur would mean death.  Yet this man was prepared to face it.  I do not believe that anyone but Montaccord could steel himself to that.
“There is one final and overpowering piece of evidence against Montaccord, but before I give it to you I must ask your indulgence for a few minutes.  I want to look at my notes.  And, frankly, I want a drink.”
“Very understandable, my dear Deene,” pronounced Mr. Gorringer.  “And the night is so far gone that I think we should be prepared now to be patient.  We appreciate that you cannot allow yourself to be hurried.”
There was a general easing of the tension in the room, and conversation arose on all sides.  Mr. Gorringer could be heard informing Mrs. Fleece that it was an admirably lucid exposition of the truth and she was evidently pleased to listen to him, since it relieved her of Boater, who was wide awake now and seeking someone to talk to.
“Do you think it would be safe to make a cup of tea?” Miss Crick asked Carolus.  “If I had known I would have brought up some of my Dandelion coffee. . . .”
“Mrs. Stick will make some more coffee,” said Carolus, and left it to Stick to ask his wife.
“Like a daily I once had,” said Mrs. Gorringer, recovering a little of her spirit.  “ ‘I couldn’t half do with a cuppa’.”
Her husband gave a polite chuckle, but no one else in her audience was in a mood even to smile.  She subsided again.
Mr. Fleece’s interjections were perhaps more suited to the occasion.
“Dreadful thing,” he commented vigourously.  “Scarcely seems possible, does it?  Such evil so near home.  Montaccord was not one of my congregation.  An agnostic, I understand.  But he lived in my parish.  I almost feel a sense of responsibility.”
On the other side of the room, Rupert Priggley was drawing out Nockings.
“You guessed it was Montaccord, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I had my suspicions, though I felt it was only Right not to jump to conclusions in anything so serious.  I’m not a man to think ill of his neighbour.  I was reading in the paper . . .”
“Yes,” said Rupert Priggley with assumed eagerness.  “What were you reading in the paper?”
Nockings was rather put out by this direct attack.
“What I was talking about.  About what I said.  Very much to the point, it was.”
Coffee was drunk, cigarettes were lighted, Mr. Gorringer’s throat was cleared.  It was clearly time for Carolus to continue.
“Yes, there was one more piece of evidence that Montaccord was a poisoner.  It was provided by his own death.”
“You mean he committed suicide?”
“I mean he was murdered,” said Carolus.
“And you know who was the murderer?” asked John Moore.
“Of course I do.  There has never been much mystery about that.  It was only the motive that was missing until May Swillow’s death.”
“But Montaccord died long before May Swillow,” pointed out Mr. Fleece.
“Exactly.  But Lady Pipford had known for nearly a fortnight that the chocolates were poisoned when she decided to kill Darryl Montaccord.”
“Lady Pipford?” gasped Mr. Fleece, speaking, it might be said, for nearly all of them.
“Of course.  That much, I should have thought, was obvious.  Lady Pipford killed her son-in-law for trying to kill her.  If you had asked her about it, she would have shrugged and asked what else she could have done.  It really seemed to her the only thing to do.  But let’s go back a bit.”

Dead for a Ducat, Chapter Nineteen

Dead for a Ducat

CHAPTER NINETEEN

“I’m afraid that what I am going to say will cause pain to some of you,” began Carolus.  “Particularly to one of you,” he added grimly.  “So I’ll say at the beginning that I have no absolute proof.  The evidence convinces me, but it may not convince the police.  Or the coroner.”
“Or the jury,” Moore added.
“If it does convince the police sufficiently they will be able to find support for it.  They have the means of doing so which I have not.  Evidence which they will obtain will probably be less circumstantial than mine.  I have no objection at all to being considered an interfering amateur.  I only hope that what I have been lucky enough to discover may be of assistance to them in making their more professional case.”
“How all this false modesty bores me,” said Rupert Priggley.  Mr. Gorringer seemed about to answer this, but was satisfied with a gesture commanding silence.  Carolus continued.
“First I should like for a moment to shelve the question of Montaccord’s death and concentrate on the two poisonings.  These are the very crux of this tragic affair.
“In England we feel, rightly or wrongly, that the poisoner is the meanest of all murderers.  He is also very often the hardest to conflict.  He has three lines of escape.  He may administer a poison which is not recognized as the cause of death.  This death appears to be a natural one, so that only by a post-mortem is the presence of poison revealed.  He may administer poison in such a way that it will appear to have been taken deliberately by his victim, so that murder appears suicide.  Or he may just administer poison and rely on lack of evidence against himself.  If he is ruthless and has the nerve to go through with it, this is probably the safest, for he leaves none of that evidence that comes from over-planning.  He may be suspected of the crime, but who is to prove, in court or out, that he is guilty?  Motive alone will not be enough, for there are always others with a motive.  His proximity at the time means little or nothing, for the poisoner may work from the other side of the world.
“It was a poisoner of this last kind, I became convinced, who was at work here.  Neither of these two deaths could appear for a moment is anything but death by poisoning and neither could be mistaken for suicide.  Someone was depending on the impossibility of a conviction without evidence.
“But this kind of poisoning also has its nemesis.  For that poison has to be obtained, and it is through this that many, many poisoners have been convicted.  How many hangings have been brought about through a man’s purchase or possession of weed killer or rat poison?  It was through this that I hoped to identify the guilty man or woman in this case.  Cyanide of potassium is not easily obtained by an unauthorized person.  So the first fact I knew about the murderer—for whom I intend to use the masculine pronoun—was that he had access, direct or indirect, to this chemical.
“The second thing I knew was that in one of the two cases at least he had a motive.  No motive for killing May Swillow readily comes to mind, but there may have been several people with a motive, of one kind or another, for killing Lady Pipford.
“His third qualification was that he should have had access both to the chocolate which May Swillow ate and to the Noyau which lady Pipford drank.  And here an interesting point arises.  I discovered from Mr. Boater recently that Darryl Montaccord was in possession of a key of the cellar when he died.  Now this key was not among his listed possessions and so far as I know has not been found.  When I knew this, I insisted on supplying the various liquors for this party myself.  As you know, my security plan was defeated by Lady Pipford’s liking for Noyau.  She sent down to the cellar for one of her bottles.  Since I exclude the Sticks from suspicion and find it difficult to believe that anyone else would have taken the risk of entering the dining-room this evening and poisoning the Noyau without being seen, I am venturing to assume, at least for the moment, that the poisoner had access to the cellar.
“The fourth identifying factor was the poisoner’s character.  I may say at once that for reasons which I will give in a moment, I’ve never believed for a moment in the theory of a homicidal maniac at work.  Lady Pipford’s death was very carefully and ingeniously engineered.  I was looking, then, for someone capable of a most cold-blooded and cowardly crime, not a lunatic with a nightmare rage for killing.
“The fifth thing was that the murderer must have known the habits of the household, the passion for sweets which seems to have been almost universal, and Lady Pipford’s liking for Noyau.
“The sixth was some knowledge of the materials and methods used, a little acquaintance with this poison and its effects and the quantity necessary, but it’s peculiar odour, which could be so well concealed in a nutty chocolate or a bottle of liqueur which is made from peach kernels.
“Finally, there was the certainty that he knew himself to be a good actor, that he could watch the results of his cruel scheme without turning a hair.  He must have been prepared to see his victims died before his eyes without revealing himself.  That to his scheme of things was essential.  It takes a man or woman of brutally thick skin to sit still and watch while his victim dies, and whatever he may have seemed as a person, this quality of his was an essential part of his character.
“This murderer could be man or woman.  There was nothing I could see in any of those seven qualifications which revealed him as one or the other.  He could be young or old.  He could be what is called ‘educated’ or otherwise.  He could follow one of the learning professions or he could be a farm worker who had never read more than the daily paper.  This murderer could be an old lady interested in gardening or a young man interested in motors.  He could be a parson or a schoolmaster, a doctor or a chemist, a man who liked his drink or a man engaged to be married.  This murderer could be a nervous or a self-conscious woman, a man or woman with a grouse, or a breezy girl.  He could be a member of the family or an employee.  He could be a silent man or one who talked too much.  Still, with all these possibilities, the seven necessary qualifications were enough.
“Indeed, if you examine them carefully with all their implications, you will see, I think, that when I had duly tabulated them in my mind, I knew that there was only one person who fitted them all.  Not any one startling piece of evidence, not any single clue, at the seven limitations gave me the identity of the poisoner.
“But of course I had more than that to go on.  May Swillow died from eating a poisoned chocolate.  There were several possible sources of supply for that, but only one very probable.  It might have been one of those sold by Mr. Bunt to Nockings in lieu of the sweets May Swillow wanted, in which case it could have been poisoned before it left the shop, while in possession of Nockings, or during the hour or two in which the bag lay on the kitchen table.  But this was rendered unlikely by the fact that none of the other chocolates in the bag were poisoned and only two had been taken from it.  That meant that only one chocolate in the whole bag—the second eaten by May Swillow—could have held poison.
“Then I knew from the postman that on the previous day May Swillow had received a box of chocolates from Mrs. Montaccord as a present after her stay here.  But apart from the absence of any known reason why Mrs. Montaccord should wish to kill May Swillow, and the extreme unlikelihood of it, it was of course the fact that this box was not with her when she was found.  It seems most unlikely that she would have brought it to work that day.  Indeed, knowing the sweet-eating capacities of the household, I think it unlikely that there were any of this box left.  Perhaps Swillow can help us there.  Do you remember your wife receiving a box of chocolates by post on the day before she died?”
“Ah,” said Swillow affirmatively.
“Do you know what she did with them?”
“Scoffed the lot,” said Swillow.
“When?”
“Same day she got ’em.”
“Thank you.  No.  It was from neither of these that the poisoned chocolate came, but from that mysterious two-pound box of Windsor chocolates which Lady Pipford locked away on the evening of the last dinner-party.
“It was Mr. Fleece who told me of this.  He and his wife arrived first, and were alone with Lady Pipford.  A letter from Jason Pipford lay on the table, and Lady Pipford asked permission to read it.  ‘I have been waiting for this letter,’ she said.  As she finished it, in Mr. Fleece’s words, a ‘remarkable change’ came over her.  She was ‘agitated’.  And when Mr. Fleece asked whether she had received bad news she said it was ‘puzzling news’.
“But more remarkable was her behaviour.  The first thing she did after reading her son’s letter was to pick up a box of Windsor chocolates and lock it not in the drawer in which sweets were ordinarily kept, but in the cupboard of the bureau.  in fact later Poppy Munn told me that while this box remained in the cupboard others were bought, kept in the drawer or eaten and replaced.
“If we associate this looking up of the chocolates by Lady Pipford with the reading of the letter, and this box of chocolates with the death of May Swillow, I think we can form a pretty got good idea of the letter’s contents.  But I’m going to ask Jason Pipford to do what he ought to have done long ago, and reveal that to us.”
Jason Pipford blinked.
“You’re quite right,” he said.  “My mother sent me half a dozen chocolates to analyse.  I found cyanide of potassium in all of them.  A sufficient dose to kill anyone eating one chocolate.”
“And you tell us this now!” John Moore almost shouted.  “Why didn’t you reported immediately?”
“My mother insisted on secrecy.  I did not, indeed I do not, know where the chocolates came from, and she would give me no information at all, simply saying that there was nothing to worry about.  She was doing everything necessary.”
“But good heavens! man, don’t you see that your failure and your mother’s to report this caused the death of an innocent woman?”
Jason looked obstinate.
“She was stealing, after all,” he said.
“Stealing!  A chocolate.  I think it very likely that you will face a charge in this connection.”
“I didn’t know anything about it,” announced Felicity Pipford.  “Not that I want to know my husband’s business.  I said to him only this evening, ‘I don’t want to know your business.’  I’m sure I . . .”
Jason Pipford in a cold rage suddenly shouted down the table, “Shut up!”
Carolus thought it was best to resume at once.
“As a matter of fact, I had another reason to suppose that it was a chocolate from the locked-up box which killed May Swillow.  That came from one of the few things Swillow has said, in this case or at any other time, perhaps.  He got the trouble to come to my house to inform me that his wife knew of that box of chocolates locked up in the cupboard of the bureau and had said she would have them if ever the cupboard was left unlocked.
“This is what must have happened.  Lady Pipford was not by nature a locker-up.  It’s quite an obsession with some people, as you probably know.  She get this box of chocolates locked up because she knew they were poisoned.  She did not throw them away because she might need them as evidence.  But one day she forgot to take out the key, and when what May Swillow came into clear away the tea-things she saw it and seized her chance.  The result, as you know, was tragic.
“Someone knew about this box of poisoned chocolates and saw that may Swillow had died from one of them.  This person did not wish this to be known.  May had fallen by the bureau, probably with the box in her hands.  Somebody moved her body across the room and cleared up all trace of the box.  The police discovered that the body had been dragged across the room.
“Lady Pipford was terribly upset by my Swillow’s death, feeling herself indirectly responsible.  It was, in a certain sense, an accident, but it would not have happened if Lady Pipford had been more careful or, better still, if she had been more frank.  It is notable that while she welcomed my investigation of Darryl’s death, she did everything possible to prevent my inquiring into May Swillow’s, even going so far as to telephone Mr. Gorringer and ask him to co-operate in persuading me to drop the whole thing.  Moreover, when John Moore told me how Lady Pipford had taken the news, he said a very curious thing:  ‘It’s almost as though she blamed herself in some way.’  Of course she did.  She had kept the chocolates without reporting the matter.  She had left the cupboard open.  Of course she blamed herself.
“That evening Nockings was surprised to find her emerging from his boiler-room.  She was ‘upset’ he told me, and he supposed it was because he caught her checking up on his work.  She may or may not have just thrown those poisoned chocolates to the flames.  At all events they have never been seen since, and when I asked her about them she was able cheerfully to invite me to inspect the cupboard where they had been.
“We know, then, how May Swillow died, but it does not tell us at once who the murderer may have been.  We can add one more qualification.  It must have been someone who could get that box of chocolates into Lady Pipford’s possession, someone who hoped that she would accept them without question, but someone who in fact aroused suspicion by the gift.  The choice, you observe, is narrowing down still more.”
Mr. Gorringer held up his hand.
“I really think a small intermission would be desirable,” he said.  “It must be a considerable strain for Deene, and it certainly is for us, too.”
Carolus smiled gratefully.
“Have a whisky-and-soda, headmaster?  You can see it’s done me no harm.”
“I think perhaps I will.  Rarely indeed that I indulge in spirits, but tonight shall be an exception.”
“Tonight is an exception,” said his wife.  “It is not every day . . .”  She stopped herself in time, seeing most of the guests looking pale and wretched.  It was not that she had intended to be funny, but that there was a danger of someone, knowing her penchant, might mistake her remark for a witticism and start laughing.
“Of course you haven’t said a thing yet,” remarked Rupert Priggley to Carolus.  “All this dreary theorizing.  Who is the murderer, anyway?  Who cares, for that matter?” he added.
Mr. Fleece was regaining his form.
“A great shock to us all,” he was saying loudly now.  “A very great shock.  She was always so very much alive.  It still seems incredible.  If I had not seen it with my own eyes I could scarcely bring myself to believe it.  She will be buried here, I suppose?  I shall have the melancholy duty.”
“Will you?” said Mrs. Gorringer nastily.  “Someone here is for it, you know.  Mr. Deene will soon shew us who we ought to have suspected all along.”
With gratitude in our heart, Mrs. Fleece looked aside at Monty Boater to find that to all appearances he was fast asleep.  Even the death of Lady Pipford, she believed now, would have failed to hold one of his marrow-freezing stories.
“Of course,” said Miss Crick to Roger Settle.  “It is very terrible, I know, and poor Margaret was one of my greatest friends, but it is interesting to have it all explained like this, isn’t it?  Are you interested?”
“Considerablah,” said Roger Settle.
A rumbling came from Mr. Gorringer as he cleared his throat.
“I think, if you’re ready, Deene, we might perhaps proceed?  We do not want to be longer than necessary.  And here I should like to interpose a query.  Had you in any ordinary sense a collection of suspects in this matter of poisoning?”
“Not in any ordinary sense, but of course several of my seventh of occasions were not operative until tonight, so the field was much wider.  I suppose that on paper I could have suspected any one of a dozen people.”
“For instance?”
Well, Nockings, for instance.  He quarrelled with the Swillows.  He had a packet of sweets in his hands for a time which was found in May Swillow’s pocket, and though, as we have seen, it did not seem to be one from this packet which poisoned her, there was no absolute proof of that.  Moreover Nockings has a way of moving rather furtively round the house at night which could draw suspicion to him.”
“I don’t wish to say anything, Mr. Deene.  I’m not a man to go shouting and sprouting in anger when I hear something I don’t like.  But I do not see that you had any reason to suspect me of that crime.”
“I said there were no suspects in the ordinary sense of the word.  But there were people who could not be altogether dismissed from suspicion.  Miss Crick, for example.”
“Oh dear!  Now I am in for it!” cried Miss Crick.  “Well, say your say.”
“Miss Crick might have given Lady Pipford the chocolates without attracting much attention.  She frequently made presents.  She is an adept in the stillroom, if not the laboratory.  Her coming so readily to aid Lady Pipford might be held incriminating, because only someone brave or someone who knew where the danger lay would venture here at that time.”
“I came because I was needed,” said Miss Crick reproachfully.
“Then there was Mr. Boater.  It was hard to suggest any motive for him, but the same applied to most other people.  He certainly knew the ways of the house.  He had caused to dislike Lady Pipford, who had been very rude to him.  He admitted this to me in terms which suggested a cruelly deflated ego.
“Thanks very much,” said Monty Boater, who had woken up at the sound of his name.
“Mr. and Mrs. Fleece could not be excluded,” went on Carolus calmly, “if only because they had expectations under Lady Pipford’s Will.  Nor could Poppy Munn, who was in the house at the time, but apparently found nothing remarkable in May Swillow’s long absence from the kitchen, but left the finding of the body to Lady Pipford.  Even Swillow himself remained on my list.
“And there was the family.  Jason Pipford certainly had access to the poison used, and Mrs. Montaccord could have sent the Windsor chocolate to her mother as she sent others to May Swillow.
Finally there were one or two people who —perhaps merely by circumstance—have been connected with the case at several points, Bunt the village grocer and Eddy Bretton the garage man, for instance.  Bunt supplied chocolates and came up to the house tonight shortly before dinner, and Bretton seems to have been up here at all relevant times.  Then Mr. and Mrs. Gorringer have been guests at both of Lady Pipford’s dinner-parties . . .”
“Deene,” warned Mr. Gorringer, “I think you forget yourself.  “To suggest that your headmaster . . .”
“The same applies,” added Carolus hurriedly, “to Dr. and Mrs. Thomas.”
This seemed to pacify Mr. Gorringer.
“So among these was your man?” asked Dr. Tom.
“No.  He wasn’t.  I have said that none of these were suspects in any ordinary sense of the word, for not one of them fulfilled all my seven conditions.  Most of them fulfilled one or two, some of them more, but the poisoner had to fulfil all.
“But there is no one living being . . .” persisted Dr. Tom.
“You’re not going to drag out a complete stranger at this point, are you?” asked Rupert Priggley.
“No.  Not by any means a complete stranger.  But not a living being either.  Lady Pipford and May Swillow were both murdered by the late Daryl Montaccord.”

Dead for a Ducat, Chapter Eighteen

Dead for a Ducat

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

It was a revelation of the natural authority behind the casual and elusive personality of Carolus that in this crisis he was expected by everyone present to assume control.  Dr. Tom, Mr. Gorringer and Mr. Fleece, all men who in their own worlds were accustomed to giving a lead and being obeyed, now turned to him.
“I think it would be best,” he said, “if we all stay just as we are until the police arrive.  Stick, will you please telephone for them at once?  Explain that Lady Pipford has been poisoned.”
Lanie was crying, and it seemed a strange thing in that self-possessed woman with no nonsense about her.  Mrs. Fleece, too, was making an odd blubbering sound.  Miss Crick did not speak or move, but stared at the dead body as though the sight of it held her hypnotized.  Felicity Pipford looked in awe from one face to another.  She might have been expecting a revelation from them.
“What about . . .?” Dr. Tom glanced at the limp figure so grotesquely bent over the table.  It was clear that it could not be allowed to stay there while thirteen people sat around it.
“Quite all right to move her,” said Carolus.  “It isn’t as though the position matters.  Will you, Lance, and Stick?”
They carried the body of Lady Pipford from the room but this did nothing to relieve the tense and unnatural atmosphere, as all but Lanie and Roger Settle kept their places at the table.  They appeared to be too distressed, or too shocked, too surprised or grief-stricken to speak.
Stick returned.
“Mr. Moore is coming at once, Sir,” he said.
Carolus nodded.
“I’m awfully sorry,” he said.  “But I do think we ought to stay as we are till he arrives.  He’ll need every scrap of help we can give him.”
No one disputed this or agreed.  The assembled guests were still silent and supine under the shock.  Mr. Gorringer played with the spoon from his coffee-cup.  Boater looked almost purple now; his eyes were half-closed and his breathing audibly stertorous.  Roger Settle had taken Lanie across to an arm-chair and was rather ineffectually trying to comfort her, while Felicity Pipford still gazed about her, looking as though she wanted someone to break the silence and would be the first to start talking again.
Mr. Fleece, on the other hand, was dumbfounded.  His rather prominent eyes were wide and his mouth a little open.  Even his boisterousness, his noisy self-confidence, his good mixer’s aptitude for the wrong word breezily spoken, whether of sympathy or congratulation, had clearly broken down.  He looked rather like a plump fish—a red mullet, perhaps—with his open mouth and popping eyes.  Beside him, Mrs. Gorringer looked across to her husband, but, like the rest of them, remained silent.
The minutes began to pass.  The tension became almost intolerable.
At last “in that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid” was heard the voice of Felicity Pipford.
“How did you know it was poison?” she asked Carolus.
All who remained at the table looked towards him.  This was a question most of them wanted to ask.
“I didn’t,” said Carolus.  “I only thought it might be.  It was the only thing on the table tonight not brought here by my housekeeper and her husband.”
“You said ‘Don’t drink it!’ ” pursued Felicity almost accusingly.
“And how right he was,” said Dr. Tom, sniffing at the bottle of Noyau.
“But too late,” said Jason Pipford coldly.
“Yes.  I was too late.”  Carolus spoke in a flat, cold voice.
“Mrs. Fleece was trying to control a rising hysteria.  “Oh God!” she said and, perhaps fortunately, began to cry again.
Now that the silence was broken, a certain amount of sporadic comment was made.
“Terrible thing!” said Mr. Fleece.  “Terrible thing!”
“That,” pronounced Mr. Gorringer, “is to put it mildly.  It is the most terrible thing I have ever heard of in my life, still less witnessed.  Only a moment earlier she was chatting happily to me.  We were discussing certain innovations at the Queen’s School.  Tragic beyond words.”
Mr. Boater appeared to wake up.
“It was more than that,” he said.  “It was cold-blooded, deliberate murder under our very eyes.”
“Murder!” gasped Felicity Pipford.
“Well, wasn’t it?” said Boater aggressively.  “Got to face it,” he added.
“Murder!” repeated Felicity, and the word seemed to ring through the room and echo again and again from the walls.
“Murder most foul,” agreed Mr. Gorringer, and from his place at the corner of the table he looked round the company as though expecting to see guilt in at least one face.
This brought a new element into the situation.  It seemed to be dawning on the guests that the man or woman guilty of this crime might be among them.  There were furtive looks from one to another.  Mrs. Fleece wept more noisily.
“This is intolerable,” said the Vicar.  “How long must we sit here?”
“The police will arrive in a few moments,” said Carolus.  “It will be for them to decide.  But I do not think that they will want anyone to go until they have made their enquiries.”
“You mean, we may be kept here for a long time?” gasped Felicity.
“I may be wrong.  I don’t really know.  But that’s what I imagine,” Carolus told her.
When John Moore at last came in he had with him, in addition to another officer and a doctor, an elderly man in dark clothes, and Moore explained this before he asked any questions.
“Mr. Geary happened to be with me when I received the message, so I asked him to come up here.  Mr. Geary is solicitor to the family.”
Moore took a seat and pulled out his notebook.  Pointedly ignoring Carolus, he turned to Mr. Gorringer.
“Would you be kind enough to tell me what happened?” he asked.
Mr. Gorringer cleared his throat and began to recall the last minutes of Lady Pipford’s life, starting with the conversation she had with him and including the violent behaviour of Carolus.  When he came to this, Moore interrupted and turned to Carolus himself.
“You knew it was poisoned?” he asked.
Carolus made the same reply as he had made to Felicity.
“I see,” said Moore noncommittally, and asked Mr. Gorringer to continue.  This he did, describing the death in slightly dramatic phrases.  He recalled Dr. Tom’s instant examination of the body and quick explanation.  He ended by saying that at the suggestion of Carolus they had all stayed in this room.
Moore was first concerned with the bottle of Noyau and asked Stick how this had come to be on the table.  Stick, a reticent man, looked round as though he expected his wife to be present to assume command of the situation.  He seemed embarrassed at the sudden call on him to speak.
“Lady Pipford sent me down for it,” he said.
“Down?”
“To the wine cellar.”
“What else did you bring?”
“Nothing.  All the wines were Mr. Deene’s.  And the brandy.”
“Lady Pipford did not drink brandy,” explained Mr. Gorringer.  “She preferred Noyau.”
“When did you fetch the bottle?”
“At the last minute.  Before the guests arrived. Lady Pipford came down to see the table.  ‘I must have my own liqueur, though,’ she said, and gave me the key of the cellar.”
“Was this the only bottle of this stuff?”
“No.  There were about half a dozen.  I took the nearest.”
“When was it opened?”
“Then.  As soon as I brought it up.”
“And left with a loose cork in the dining-room?”
“Not cork.  Screw top.  Yes, I left it there.”
“Did anyone go into the dining-room after you had done this?  Before the guests, I mean.”
“Yes, several.  My wife for one.  Mrs. Montaccord wanted to see the table.  And Miss Crick. . . .”
Eyes turned towards Miss Crick, who shewed no change of expression.
“Why was that?” John Moore asked her.
“The flowers,” said Miss Crick.  “I wanted to see the flower arrangement.  There is a little rivalry between Lady Pipford and me on the arrangement of flowers.  So I had a little peep.  I don’t like to say so now, but I was a little disappointed.  Chrysanthemums, as you see.  Such an obvious choice.”
“Who else went in?”
“Anyone may have done,” said Stick.  “That’s all I saw.”
“Did any of you, in fact?” Moore asked, looking round the table.
There was a negative murmur.  The Noyau bottle was carefully put away for fingerprinting and analysis of the contents.
Then Moore proceeded to a detailed cross-examination of all present on their movements since arriving in the house.  This revealed nothing more startling than that Miss Crick, as soon as Stick had opened the door, had demanded the ‘ladies’ room’.  Trouble with her suspender, she now explained.
Moore went farther back.  How had they come here? he asked.  Roger Settle had driven down with Elaine, bringing Jason and Felicity.  Their car was in the garage now.  Mr. and Mrs. Gorringer had engaged a taxi from Newminster.  Carolus had brought Dr. Tom and Phoebe.  Mr. Boater had walked.  It was Mr. Fleece who produced a mild surprise in this matter.
“We came by taxi,” he said.  When Lady Pipford was good enough to invite us to her house at night in the winter her invitation always included a conveyance.  Most kind and considerate.  This evening young Bretton brought his taxi to our door at seven o’clock, and we called for Miss Crick.  I was rather displeased, because he had Munn’s daughter sitting with him in the front seat.”
“Poppy Munn?”
“Yes.  I may be old-fashioned, but I feel it is out of place in a taxi-driver.”
“Did you see the taxi drive away from here?”
“No, I didn’t.  There was a little rain falling and we hurried in.  My wife’s dress . . .”
“Quite.  Did anyone else see anything of the taxi?”
“Yes.  About ten minutes,” Carolus told him.
Moore passed on.  He was at his best making an interrogation of this kind, unhurried, cool, courteous but quite firm.  He elicited the information he required about Carolus’s arranging for the Sticks to buy and cook the dinner and supplying the wine so that nothing from the house should be used; he gathered an idea of the main conversational trends before and during dinner.  Leaving the more personal matters of each individual aside for a later and more private occasion, he quickly obtained a general picture of the whole fatal dinner-party.
Stick, who had made his escape, came in to tell Mr. and Mrs. Fleece that their taxi was waiting.
“I told him eleven,” the Vicar said.  “We expected a long and convivial evening.”  He sounded strangely subdued.
“Is it Bretton?” Moore asked of Stick.
“Yes.  He has a young woman with him in the car.”
“Bring them both in, please.”
Blinking a little in the light, Eddy Bretton and Poppy entered.  They had been informed by Stick of what had happened and asked no question now.
Moore explained to Eddy Bretton that it seemed his taxi had driven away ten minutes after he had dropped Mr. and Mrs. Fleece.
“S’right,” said Eddy.
“How did that come about?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“What were you doing during those ten minutes?”
“Necking.”
Seeing Mr. Fleece look puzzled, Mr. Gorringer broke in informatively.
“Americanism.  Making love.  What we used to call spooning.”
“Just so,” said Mr. Fleece, as though he had known all along.
Moore pressed Eddy on this point.
“Here?  In the drive?” he said.
“Why not?”
“It seems rather curious.  You could have driven off somewhere.”
“I did.  Afterwards.  This was just a few minutes we had.”
“I see,” retorted Moore rather coldly.
He then turned to Mr. Geary and asked a few questions about Lady Pipford’s Will.  Geary gave him the information which Carolus had from Lady Pipford, adding that, ironically enough, he had the new draft ready in his office and had meant to bring it to Lady Pipford.
“She has not signed her new Will, then?” asked Moore.
“No.  There have been a number of delays.”
“So the former Will stands, and is Darryl Montaccord were alive still he would inherit a share?”
“As it is, his share will go to his heirs and assigns.  If he made a Will I fear that part of the estate will leave the family.”
There was an interruption from Mr. Gorringer.
“Do you think, my dear Deene, you could use your good offices to obtain a little water or soda-water for us?  This room is stifling, and I speak for others beside myself when I say that refreshment would be welcome, particularly if we are to remain here some time.
Carolus nodded to Stick, who went out.
It is hot in here,” agreed the Vicar.
Carolus went across to the french windows and pulled back the heavy curtains.  As he did so he received a shock, for standing not two feet away on the other side of the glass doors was Nockings.  His long, graveyard face and black clothes gave him a startling appearance as the light suddenly shone on him.
He attempted to walk away, but Moore called sharply, “Bring that man in, please.”
Nockings entered through the french windows.
“You were listening?” asked Moore.
“I was doing my duty,” Nockings retorted loftily.  I was making my rounds according to her ladyship’s orders.  I heard sounds from this room . . .”
“But you knew there was a dinner-party being given this evening?”
“Not at eleven o’clock at night, I didn’t, when it started at eight.  It seemed very strange to me, in fact.  Very strange.  I’m not a man to go stoking and poking with what doesn’t concern me, but being responsible to her ladyship, I did find it strange that there should be people still in the dining-room at this time.”
Moore asked for an account of his movements that evening, and Nockings gave a long and circuitous one which shewed him as a man almost unnaturally conscientious.  It also revealed the fact that at six o’clock that evening Mr. Bunt had driven his little delivery van to the back door and Nockings, talking to him before he drove away, had heard the reason for this.  At the last minute Mrs. Stick had found she was out of oil for the salad and had ’phoned up Mr. Bunt and begged him to oblige.
Moore asked Nockings then if he had seen Swillow this evening.
“I have not,” he replied with some feeling.  “I was not likely to.  I do not spend my evenings pigging and swigging in the public-house.”
“Swillow was at the Bull, then?”
Stick ventured to tell John Moore that Swillow was at the back door, and when he had been called in, Moore’s question was answered.  A glance at Swillow shewed where he had spent the evening.
Mr. Gorringer now addressed Moore.
“Detective Sergeant,” he said.  “While I appreciate that certain immediate inquiries are necessary and that our presence is required for them, I must point out that the ladies are tired. . . .”
“So am I,” snapped John Moore unexpectedly.  “I’ve been working fourteen hours a day on this case for a fortnight.  I’ve warned everyone concerned of the dangers and my warnings have been ignored.  I have listened to more lies in this affair than I’ve heard in my entire career.  The ladies are tired?  You’re tired?  Well, I’m sorry, but you may be more tired still before I’ve finished making inquiries this evening.”
“That,” said Mr. Gorringer, “is neither respectful nor logical.  It happens that I firmly defend the police force, and all along have wished that these unfortunate mysteries should be left entirely to them, believing them adequate to deal with them.  But upon my soul, Detective Sergeant, you give me qualms.  If you have any good reasons for keeping the ladies here, I think we should know them.
“I have excellent reasons.  Three people have already died at the hand of some probably insane assassin.  I am not taking any more chances.  No one leaves this house until I have been given all the information that is available.  This is not a parlour game.
“Your last observation is offensive,” thundered the headmaster.  “We have been witnesses this evening of a very horrible thing.  We have seen a lady for whom we all had the greatest respect fall forward dead.  We are not likely to mistake that for a parlour game.”
“But if this dinner-party had not taken place while the other deaths were still unexplained, Lady Pipford might still be alive.  He looked at Carolus.  “I think that everyone here this evening is to some extent to blame.”
Mr. Gorringer was not going to have that.
“And the police force is utterly blameless, I suppose?  You are employed to enforce law and order and prevent crime, and instead you take it upon yourself to inform me, the headmaster of the Queen’s School, Newminster, Mr. Fleece the Vicar of this parish and these other ladies and gentlemen that we are to blame for what has happened.  I shall report this matter to the Chief Constable.”  John Moore was too angry to answer this for a moment, and Mr. Gorringer seized the advantage of his silence.  “And now,” he said, growing grandiose, “will you kindly make what further inquiries are necessary so that we can disperse?”
John Moore glanced down at his notebook, then turned to Carolus.
“I’m not altogether satisfied at your explanation of your warning to Lady Pipford—the warning which came too late.  What made you realize suddenly that she was about to drink from the only bottle which had not come from your stock?”
“I had just heard her say that she ordered this liqueur by the dozen bottles.”
“I see.  Do you know more about this case than you have yet admitted?”
“Oh, yes,” said Carolus.
“You know all about it, in fact?” said Moore bitterly.
“Pretty well.”
“You know who murdered Lady Pipford, perhaps?”
“Yes.”
“And May Swillow?”
“Yes.”
“Did you know the identity of this murderer before you came here this evening?”
The room had suddenly grown tense.
“Yes, I did.”
“Yet you did not save Lady Pipford’s life?”
“I couldn’t.  I did everything possible.”
Mr. Gorringer boomed across at Carolus.
“My dear Deene, I beg you to reflect.  You are almost admitting to being an accessory.  Be cautious, pray.”
“There has been too much caution already,” said Carolus.  “Yes, I know the murderer’s identity, and have known for some time.”
“I suppose you intend to reveal it to us?” said John Moore, with fierce sarcasm.  “One of your brilliant strokes of deduction which leave our patient researches behind.”
“I’ll tell you if you want.  But it will take some time.  I’ve no wish to keep everyone up.”
This was greeted with reassurances.  Even Monty Boater seemed to wake up again, and Carolus was told from all sides that no one could sleep anyway until the thing was solved.
At this point Stick came in again.
“There’s a young gentleman from the school asking to see you,” he said to Carolus.  “He says he has the information you wanted.”
He was followed into the room by Rupert Priggley.
“I heard you were out here.  I thought this had better not wait till morning.  It’s red hot,” he said, failing to keep the excitement out of his voice.
The headmaster viewed his least favourite pupil sternly.
“I don’t know what you’re doing out of bed at this hour, Priggley,” he began.  “But I shall certainly . . .”
“Forget it,” said Rupert.  He was evidently beside himself.  “Read that,” he added to Carolus and handed him a slip of paper.
As he read it Carolus nodded.  “I thought you might find that,” he said.
John Moore looked at his watch.
“If you have got something to say,” he told Carolus, “please get through it as quickly as possible.  We don’t want to spend all night here, and I’ve got a lot more inquiries to make.”
“They won’t be necessary,” said Carolus.
Rupert Priggley sat back. “In one of your maddeningly cocksure moods, I see, Sir,” he said.
“Silence, Priggley,” thundered Mr. Gorringer.  Then, more gently, “Well, Deene?”
It was clear that he did not intend to lose the chairmanship of the occasion which he had managed to usurp.
“I should like a whisky-and-soda before I begin,” said Carolus.
The headmaster spoke again.
“Is that wise, do you think?”
“I sent some whisky up,” said Carolus.
“I daresay.  But it has been in this house for some time.  The Noyau . . .”
“I’ll chance that.”
His drink was brought, and they all watched with expressions of fascinated horror while he swallowed most of it.  Evidently they thought he would collapse as Lady Pipford had done.  But Carolus was very far from any kind of collapse.
Roger Settle came and spoke in a low voice to John Moore.
“Certainly Mrs. Montaccord may go to bed if she wants,” Moore agreed.  “This must have been a great shock to her.”
Elaine left the room.